Rebels leave Lebanese border area after truce deal
GENEVA, Aug 14, (Agencies): More than 600,000 displaced Syrians have returned to their homes since the beginning of the year, with most of them heading to Aleppo, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration. Between January and the end of July, 602,759 displaced Syrians returned to their homes, many of them citing an improved economic and security situation in the areas they had fl ed from, IOM said in a statement.
A total of 84 percent of those who have returned had taken refuge elsewhere within the war-ravaged country, while the remaining 16 percent returned from neighbouring countries Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. More than a quarter of returnees said they did so to protect their assets and properties, while nearly the same number referred to the improved economic situation in their place of origin, and 11 percent cited the improved security situation there. Fourteen percent meanwhile pointed to the worsening economic situation in their place of refuge, IOM said. But while most of the returns had been spontaneous, it warned they were “not necessarily voluntary, safe or sustainable,” it said.
Aleppo Governorate, the scene of the harshest battles of Syria’s bloody sixyear war, had received 67 percent of all returnees so far this year, IOM said. And within the governorate, Aleppo city, which was recaptured by the Syrian army last December after a suffocating five-month siege, has received most returnees, it said.
Many of those returning meanwhile must struggle to get bare necessities, with only 41 percent having access to clean water and 39 percent with access to health services. Meanwhile, hundreds of Syrian rebels and civilians started leaving the Lebanon-Syria border area Monday after a deal was reached for their departure following days of delay, the media arm of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group said.
In Beirut, meanwhile, the United State handed over to the Lebanese army eight Bradley Fighting Vehicles, part of a total of 32 that will be delivered over the coming months. The military aid is aimed at helping Lebanon combat extremist groups and prevent further spillover from neighboring Syria. At the border, buses carrying members of the Levant People’s Brigades rebel group started moving from the Lebanese border town of Arsal in the direction of the Syrian village of Fleeta.
The evacuation comes nearly two weeks after more than 7,000 Syrians, many of them al-Qaida-linked fighters and their families, left Arsal following a Hezbollah offensive. The Levant People’s Brigades, whose members did not take part in last month’s battles, will be heading to the Syrian town of Ruhaiba, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) northeast of the Syrian capital, Damascus, where they will return to normal life following an amnesty by the state, according to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV.
Rebels and government fighters have lived alongside each other in Ruhaiba without fighting for more than a year following a local de-escalation agreement. Hezbollah’s Military Media said that by Monday afternoon, some 1,500 fighters and civilians had left toward Ruhaiba. Another 300 are scheduled to leave later in the day bound for their government-held hometowns in the western parts of the Qalamoun region, near the border with Lebanon. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said about 2,000 in total should enter Syria by the end of the day.
United Nations agencies have expressed “deep concern” for the safety and security of nearly 50,000 Syrians stranded in the desert near their warwracked country’s southern border with Jordan. A statement issued on Sunday in Amman said an estimated 4,000 people at Hadalat and 45,000 mostly women and children at Rukban were stuck on the frontier. A suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group in June last year killed seven Jordanian soldiers in no-man’s land near the Rukban border crossing. Soon afterwards, the army declared Jordan’s desert regions that stretch northeast to Syria and east to Iraq “closed military zones”. Jordan is part of the US-led coalition fighting IS.
“Airstrikes have been reported in the area in the last few days, causing serious distress and panic amongst the population fearing for their lives with the heightened risk of escalated hostilities,” Sunday’s statement said. It said that although no casualties have yet been reported among the stranded Syrians, “the area is increasingly unsafe”, prompting some people to leave the area. This exposed them to “further danger and deprivation in an inhospitable desert location, unsure of where to go in search of safety”.
The UN said the most vulnerable, mostly women and children, were unable to return home because of the war in Syria. Civilians fl eeing the Islamic State group’s two remaining Syrian strongholds face “terrible, terrible conditions” in dozens of poorly-equipped informal camps, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday. IS is under pressure in the remaining areas it holds in Syria, with a USbacked force battling to oust the jihadists from its bastion Raqqa, and regime troops closing in on jihadist-held parts of Deir Ezzor.